Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become widespread throughout the global business community. In fact, over 80% of S&P 500 companiespublicly share their brand-driven impact via CSR reports, a 400% increase since 2011.
While it’s imperative that individual businesses leverage their expertise, financial clout, and supply chain to build a better world, isolated actions are not enough to meet the challenges we face — such as climate change —with equal force. Now is the time for corporations to serve as the third pillar of social change, joining nonprofits and government programs, in a trifecta of purpose that builds a more sustainable and equitable world. In short, collaboration is essential to progress in improving the future for all.
A powerful example of such collaboration is Procter and Gamble and its Head & Shoulders Beach Plastic Bottle project, announced at the 2017 World Economic Forum. The Head & Shoulders Beach Plastic Bottle is the first recyclable shampoo bottle in the world to be constructed with recycled beach plastics. It contains up to 25% of the recycled material. The company launched a limited-edition batch in the French market this summer and will launch it into Germany in mid-December. Moreover, P&G plans to produce over half a billion shampoo bottles of its flagship brands, Head & Shoulders, Pantene and Aussie, with up to 25% post-consumer recycled plastic by the end of 2018 in Europe.
Bottles of Procter & Gamble Co. Pantene shampoo are displayed for sale at an E-Mart Co. store, a subsidiary of Shinsegae Co., in Incheon, South Korea, on Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013. Consumer prices climbed 0.9% in November from a year earlier after a 0.7% increase in October that was the smallest gain since July 1999. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg
The consumer goods conglomerate collaborated with numerous experts and organizations to innovate on sustainable packaging. Key partners included TerraCycle and SUEZ and together they were awarded the United Nations ‘Momentum for Change’ Climate Solutions award during COP 23, in Bonn earlier this year.
As Head & Shoulders’ Global VP, Lisa Jennings reflected, this innovation “shines a light on scalable solutions to diverting waste from landfill and beaches. We are confident this project will continue inspiring other brands and industries to find solutions to the issue of plastic waste.”
The collaboration around this innovative project was fueled by a shared vision to catalyze real change in the way we produce, consume and dispose of plastics. Other impactful partnerships include Adidas and Parley, whose shared mission is to learn, evolve and reconfigure the way we think about pollution in the world’s oceans, while Corona has pledged to protect 100 islands from marine plastic pollution by 2020 in partnership with Parley. Ultimately, without such purposeful partnerships, it would be more difficult if not impossible to mobilize true sustainable progress on a scale that will improve all lives.
An Adidas xParley sneaker, made from recycled waste from the ocean, sits on display ahead of a news conference to announce Adidas AG’s earnings in Herzogenaurach, Germany, on Thursday, March 3, 2016. German sport-shoe maker Adidas forecast sales and earnings to increase as much as 12% this year as consumers spend more ahead of the Euro 2016 soccer tournament. Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg
Here’s why partnerships are vital to innovation and impact:
1. They enhance business insights: Before launching a new product, service or initiative, it’s essential know your market. Globally, we produce more than 20 million tons of trash is discarded outside of landfills, in nature each year; 8 million tons of which runs off into the ocean wanted to use its supply chain to contribute to solving the problem of ocean plastics. But before diving in, the company needed to better understand consumer behavior and awareness.
Head & Shoulders collaborated with the research specialist Harris Interactive to assess how French consumers dispose of plastic waste in the bathroom. A study of 1000 French people revealed that although 71% of disposable plastics utilized in the kitchen are recycled, just 44% of bathroom plastics follow the same lifecycle.
P&G saw this as an opportunity to leverage its #1 shampoo brand Head & Shoulders to increase awareness about ocean plastic pollution and change consumer behavior towards more sustainable practices. Ultimately, partnerships can help you understand your target audience and provide strategy insight for purposeful and profitable innovation.
2. They scale your network: Collaboration is crucial to building community. Brands that foster strong relationships with external networks can not only strengthen ties with consumers, but also receive valuable assistance that can help them meet CSR and financial goals.
P&G’s partnership with TerraCycle is a great example of how companies can expand their networks to awaken measurable actions that build their brand and a better world. TerraCycle was instrumental in supplying the recyclable beach plastics guard in Head & Shoulders bottles. The organization not only coordinated with over 100 nonprofits and 1000 individuals to receive beach plastics, but also sorted through the collected plastics to separate high-density polyethylene (HDPE). This is an essential step in the process of producing the bottles because HDPE can be repurposed and recycled again.
The partnership between P&G and TerraCycle gave Head & Shoulders the materials it needed and provided TerraCycle with an outlet for reclaimed HDPE. Essentially, collaboration can scale your network and open windows of opportunity.
3. They speed up R&D: Successful business leaders know how to leverage R&D in house capabilities and collaborate with outside expertise to drive innovation. P&G partnered with SUEZ to transform the raw beach plastics into usable inputs for Head & Shoulders shampoo bottles. The plastics undergo a multi-step process in which SUEZ washes the beach plastics, crushes them down and reforms them into plastic pellets.
By working with SUEZ, P&G can take advantage of their partners recycling expertise and facilities, demonstrating that, ultimately, working with partners can save you the headache — not to mention time and money — of having to reinvent the wheel.
4. They open doors for distribution: While direct to consumer sales channels are becoming increasingly popular, many companies rely on third party distributors to facilitate B2C transactions. Collaborating with select distributors around purpose-driven product launches is an excellent way to test products, run duel promotions and scale sales channels.
To distribute Head & Shoulders’ first batch of beach plastic bottles, P&G formed an exclusive partnership with Carrefour in France and with Rewe Group in Germany. The retailers will also help drive awareness about plastic pollution and recycling in its myriad stores where the Head & Shoulders products will be sold. The lesson here is that partnerships can make it easier to position your brand in front of consumers and generate sales.
The key takeaways are that collaboration provides nuanced insights, expands your network, reduces R&D time and expenditure and scales distribution channels.
What’s more, it’s essential that businesses seek to partner with public sector institutions, nonprofits, as well as other for-profit companies to make the changes that will lead to a profitable circular economy and sustainable future for generations to come.